• Unity Touches Full Spectrum of Maternal Health

    Tiarra Spencer, 28, still remembers that scared feeling she had the first time she was pregnant; 16 at the time, and not sure what to do or where to go. Thankfully, she found herself at Unity’s Minnesota Avenue Health Center and was soon headed on her way for a healthy pregnancy.

    “They gave me a first trimester packet on my first visit, and it talked about what you should be doing and the right things to eat and medicines you aren’t supposed to be taking,” she says. “I was a little bit aggressive on my first visit; I wanted to see if they were strong enough to handle my personality and they made me happy that I came to see them.”

    She now has three children—12-year-old Lamar, 6-year-old Niarra and 8-month old Jace, and is under the care of family physician, Dr. Patricia Martin, D.O.

    “We have a great connection and she still sees my kids,” Spencer says. “It’s so hard to find someone you are comfortable with and that’s something special about this clinic.”

    What’s great about Unity’s maternal health program is that patients not only have a primary care doctor that they see, but a full gauntlet of experts in the maternal health space—OBGYNs, family doctors, nutritionists, insurance reps, social workers, etc.—guiding them through preconception, during prenatal care, and postpartum so that they can support new mothers for any problems that arise during and after pregnancy.

    For example, for Spencer’s latest pregnancy, she developed preeclampsia, and because of the high-risk nature, was turned over to a different specialist. Dr. Martin still stayed involved and communicated with her when she had questions.

    “One of the things that Unity offers is the continuity of being a family-centered medical home,” Dr. Martin says. “We are focused on families—mom, dad and baby, and that’s unique. We have the resources that people may need and offer a breadth of services that enhances the patient relationship. Our birth plan is always that mom and baby are healthy.”

    Malicia Day was 24 when she was pregnant for the first time and didn’t know what her health care insurance would cover, but learned about Unity from her mom and on her first day to the clinic, started care under Dr. Brandi Jones, D.O.

    “They had a friendly staff and I didn’t have to wait long for the appointments, which was important to me,” Day says. “I was told to drink a lot of water, get a lot of sleep, take my prenatal pills and she told me about classes for first-time moms like pregnancy yoga. I asked so many questions and Dr. Jones was always there to answer them.”

    One time, while six months pregnant, Day needed to come in without an appointment because of stomach cramps, and she was seen in relatively short order and those she saw comforted her through what turned out to be just “normal pregnancy” feelings.

    Almost five years later, Dr. Jones has delivered both of Day’s children—8-month old Brilyn and 4-year-old Sydney, and remains a part of her care team today.

    “I had an emergency C-section with Sydney because her heart went into distress and with Brilyn, I did have gestational diabetes,” Day says. “Dr. Jones was there both times to help me through it all. I told her, if she wasn’t going to deliver my baby, I didn’t want anyone else.”

    Dr. Jones notes that labor and delivery is sometimes unpredictable, and issues do happen, and that can be scary for her patients.

    “To be able to be a consistent presence for her made her feel better,” she says. “In the end, everything was great. The baby was healthy and she came through it just fine, and I was glad I had the opportunity to be there for her, and happy to see her when she came back for her second child.”

    After each baby was born, Day was instructed to come back for her 6-week checkup and was given the number for a nurse hotline that would offer advice if needed—and she used it several times for help.

    “I always tell people about Dr. Jones because she’s really personal and super sweet. If I call her, she will call me back,” Day says. “I always recommend Unity Health to my friends because I’ve never had a bad experience yet.”

    Another thing Day likes is the Unity patient portal, where she could quickly write a question online and she’d get a response, and she could see all her records and appointments.

    Dr. Jones, who has worked for Unity for seven years, encourages her patients to ask questions and participate in their health care. She feels education is an important factor in creating a safe pregnancy for both mother and child.

    “I always tell my patients not to leave the office or appointment without understanding what anyone told you,” Dr. Jones says. “I’m very proud when people are willing to ask the questions.”

    She wants patients to understand the risks and empowers young women to take control of their health.

    “A first visit is about me getting to know the patients and I spend a lot of time talking about my expectations for them throughout their pregnancy, and taking histories,” Dr. Jones says. “Every pregnancy is different and it doesn’t matter if it’s your first or sixth pregnancy.”

    After the first visit, she encourages all patients to visit with a Unity social worker, to apply for different Unity services (such as dentistry and the Wic program—special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children) and making sure they have all they need going forward.

    “It’s all about prenatal care and support. To have a healthy pregnancy, you need to be informed and involved,” Dr. Jones says. “We are huge advocates of breast feeding and the more resources you can provide a patient, the more likely they will try. And if they try, you have to be there for support and help them through the challenges they may face.”

    The Fourth Trimester

    It’s not uncommon for new moms to experience the “baby blues” after giving birth, which often involves mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and sleeping difficulties. But sometimes, a more serious issue, postpartum depression, can hit, and that’s something that people will need help with.

    CDC research shows that nationally, about 1 in 9 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression.

    Dr. Martin said while new moms might not want to admit that they have postpartum depression, it’s nothing to be ashamed of and does not display a weak character. There’s no specific cause, and it’s a somewhat normal reaction and one that can be dealt with, as long as a patient is willing to seek out help.

    Unity has in-house mental health clinicians and therapists that will talk though this with new moms and help them create a bond with their baby and minimize these sad feelings.

    “Unity is on the forefront of addressing maternal mental health early on, and we work with behavioral health consultants and try to connect them with care the moment we may notice they have postpartum,” she says. “We know it has a huge impact on both the mom’s well-being and the baby’s well-being.”

    written by Keith Loria